Local Commentary

Editorial: Who’s a Financial ‘Expert’ Anymore?

It was frankly amusing at the Falls Church City Council work session Monday night listening to all the chatter on the Council about the good things that real financial “experts” could do for the City if they were called upon to form a so-called Fiscal Affairs Advisory Board (FAAB) and were tasked with helping forecast the future.

It was frankly amusing at the Falls Church City Council work session Monday night listening to all the chatter on the Council about the good things that real financial “experts” could do for the City if they were called upon to form a so-called Fiscal Affairs Advisory Board (FAAB) and were tasked with helping forecast the future.

Has what’s happened in the last year to the U.S. and global economy, and the role of the so-called “experts” in bringing the world to the brink of a precipitous crash into a New Dark Age been totally lost on our local political leaders? Do they think there are people out there, perhaps former Goldman Sachs or Lehman Brothers analysts, who are somehow more qualified than themselves to chart the course of the City’s future? Not only are the assumptions of the financial “experts” fraught with subjective biases, they are little better than guesses these days if they are otherwise intellectually honest.

One Councilman said that the best the City is able to come up with, on its own, in terms of financial planning is based on “speculation” about the future, whereas an “expert” would engage in “forecasting.” Tell us again, now, what’s the difference? What’s the track record?

How good were the “experts” at predicting and advising policies that led to the meltdown last fall? If you spent any time watching CNBC in the period leading up to it, you would have found about 95 percent of the “experts” were worse than clueless. If you watch CNBC today, you will find that little has changed. There are “experts” who get into these four or even more little boxes that fill the TV screen and yell and shout down at each other with totally contradictory points of view.

So, which “experts” does the Falls Church City Council want to have advise it? Ones which outline one scenario for the next five years, or others with an opposite one? There are plenty of both, and if you think you can find one that doesn’t come at matters without harboring some preexisting biases or preferences, good luck. They can pontificate and sound important, but they won’t have the City’s best interests at heart the way its current elected and paid leadership does, plain and simple. They could foment a lot of dissention, however, that would hurt.

We find the FAAB idea to be a particularly risky form of “outsourcing” what the City Council and City staff know how to do best. Only those who, as all Falls Church’s leaders do, take the affairs and aspirations of the City to heart with excessive commitments of time and attention to detail, as well as with attention to the scope of the City’s mission, can adequately judge a course of future action with some sense of how things may play out in the future. Budgets and forecasts are based on a multitude of moving parts, concerning which only our dedicated leaders have anything like a comprehensive sense.

This is no time for our leaders to abdicate and punt away the ball.